Tuesday, January 20, 2009


My mother is fearless.

What strikes me is that it took me 30 years to realize this.

It all started one early Sunday morning last fall. Mom and Dad had gotten up earlier than usual. To go to church, you ask? No. To take part in another activity that is perhaps just as holy to my parents: handgun class.

So Dad was standing at the stovetop making eggs when Mom walked into the kitchen and started to whoop and holler. There, at Dad’s feet, was a giant RAT. The rat jumped up and ran across Dad’s feet before it escaped under the cupboards and to its safe haven of the basement.

Mom was all in a tizzy then. The whole family was set to come over for Thanksgiving the next week, including little Olivia. “We can’t have a rat when the baby comes!” Mom exclaimed. “It could eat her hands!” Now, before you think that my mother is overreacting, Google “rats biting babies.” Granted, the possibility of Olivia getting eaten on by a rat was quite slim, seeing as someone would be holding her just about the entire time and my parents don’t live in a slum with flesh-eating rats, but still.

The rat was quickly killed, along with six of his mousy friends. I asked my mom how big the rat was, as I am a journalist at heart and don’t do exaggerations. Mom said that the dead rat was as big as a hamster.

I was surprised to hear about the rat, since my parents have never had rodent problems. I think it was because we regularly had a kennel of Jack Russells (renowned for their rodent-killing abilities), several feisty barn cats, and children constantly running in and out of the buildings and basement. When there’s people, cats, and dogs around, mice and rats don’t have much opportunity to party. For 20 years my parents have lived in that house on 75 acres with several outbuildings, and we’ve only had one rodent problem before this.

Back before my parents remodeled the house, we had a resident rat named Curly. Krystal, who followed Mom everywhere, and saw him several times, named him.

After rat #2 (dubbed Larry...see the pattern?) last fall, I asked Mom how she knew we had Curly living in the house and she said, “I saw his happy little face!”

Dad would leave for work around 4 or 5 a.m. and Mom would sit on the couch and read her Bible and pray until us kids got up for school. The living room was over 100 years old and my parents had not been able to fix it up yet. One of the walls even had a little mouse archway chewed into it, just like in the Tom and Jerry cartoons.

“I was reading my Bible one day when I saw two little eyes (in the mouse arch) so I got down and looked and he was looking right at me. I said, ‘You dirty rat!’”

She told me this all quite matter-of-factly, which is my Mom’s way. Nothing in this world is really out of the ordinary to my mother. I am the same way, but I know that if I came face to face with a RAT, I would be a bit unnerved. Though I’d probably call him a dirty rat, too.

Mom continued with her rat story. “Then, when I was putting wood in the stove (in the basement) it jumped up and it was the flying rat.”

Krystal corroborates this story. "I was down there when she saw him that time," she told me. "The first time I saw him mom was loading wood in the basement. He ran vertically up the wall into a hole."

Curly was a tough rat to get. Dad tried several tricks, but Curly got wise to his antics and outsmarted him every time. Dad had even created this elaborate trap, which was an advanced version of “walking the plank.” A common way to catch a rat is to put a ramp up to a deep bucket of water and put a treat at the end of the plank. As the rat walks to the end of the plank, the plank will tip into the bucket with the rat on it, and the rat will drown. However, a clever rat will climb back up the submerged plank and hop out of the bucket. Dad crafted a plank with a hinge, so that as soon as Curly got to the edge, it would drop him in, and then swing back into place, leaving Curly with no way to climb out.

Curly figured out the plank and after walking out on it once (and somehow escaping), he never went back on it for the treat.

My parents eventually had to resort to the Blue Death, which is a poison. With children, dogs, and cats about, they didn’t want to use poison, but they had no choice. It worked. Curly was found dead one day, and he was tossed out by the barn.

Until 5-year-old Krystal found it. The story about THAT is in my attic. I think. I will look for it.

After they caught Larry this fall, I told my mom that I think she had a rat problem because she had killed all the snakes in her basement. Snakes eat rats, so if the snakes go away, the rats come out to play, right?

See, I wasn’t completely honest about our “only 2 rats” rodent problem. We also have had a few snake incidents.

This is where my mother’s fearlessness comes in.

Our basement used to be a Michigan basement, meaning that it has really low ceilings. Here is a photo of the basement today (note how long the jeans are hanging down—that should give you an idea of how much we have to stoop over to walk around down there). It looks a lot less creepy because Dad installed new windows and the place is all cleaned up. But back in the day, it was dark and scary and had lots of hidden cracks and crevices. And the ceiling is a sky of low rafters, heat ducts, and cobwebs.

Several years ago my mother was in the basement doing laundry or getting food from the pantry. “I saw something hanging and thought, ‘That looks like a snake,’ so I walked over and it WAS a snake!” Mom recalled.

Now who in their right mind would walk up to an unknown object, that you already think is a snake, that would be hanging next to your head, in a dark, creepy basement?!???

My mother.

(Apparently she was bothered by this enough to always wear a hooded shirt down there. That way, in the event that one DID drop on her head, it wouldn't slither down her shirt.)

Like rats, my mother has no time for snakes. They must be removed. When I was a teenager she had me help her kill a snake that was out in the yard. It was quite a gruesome ordeal, as the only tools we had were a baseball bat and a rusty hoe. It seemed to take forever and has scarred my memory ever since. Mom was not phased.

So this summer when she spotted some large snakes in her basement, she took action yet again. Next to the basement door she keeps this old farm implement which belonged to my great grandfather, Thomas Jefferson Davis Teague. It’s a very crude tool with an old wooden handle attached to a rusty piece of slightly curved metal. She calls it “Grandpa’s tool” and she kills snakes with it.

“I already killed a couple this year,” Mom told me. “With Grandpa’s tool. One was long, like 34” long. (The tool) killed three snakes and Dad said that Larry wasn’t dead so he took care of him with this (too).”

I asked her just how she killed a snake with Grandpa’s Tool.

“I pinned it down and I sawed its head off,” she said simply. “I sawed it in two.”

“Wasn’t it flailing all over the place while you did it?” I asked.

“No, you stand on it with both of your feet and then you use the Tool to saw it in the middle.”

I shudder just to think of being in the same room with a snake, but Mom has no qualms about standing on its writing body while she saws the life out of it.

Lately JB has been telling me that I’m my Mom whenever I say something funny or show a humorous mannerism. I take this as a compliment because I find my mother to be quite entertaining.

But fearless? Able to saw snakes in half with the flick of a tool?

That’ll never be me.

With that skill, Mom is in a class all her own.


Michigan Girl said...

Okay, so I've been wondering when you were finally going to tell the story about handguns and rats. I'm glad you did. And let me tell you, my mom is fearless too. I've seen her shoot dead a mangy sick looking skunk from only about 10 feet away because she thought it had rabies. If I thought something had rabies, I'm staying the heck away. So, yea to feerless moms! Brian says I'm just like my mom sometimes when I say things!

And that tool your mom has--I think it's called a "scythe." But I'm not positive.


Michigan Girl said...

Okay, so I just went to wikipedia, and I was correct, that tool is called a scythe. Wikipedia it. It was an agricultural tool used for mowing grass or harvesting grain. I think my folks have one too.


Melissa said...

Ahhhhhh! Ahhhhhhh! I did not know all of these stories! I thought their rodent problems were in the past since they fixed up the drafty house - I had hoped they wouldn't find a way in. We are looking at houses and there is an old farm house that reminds me of mom & dad's. I really liked it - until I read this story. Ahhhhh!

April May said...

Wait until I post the story about Krystal and Curly and their run-ins... :)

dave and sarah o said...

wow im VERY impressed!! i cant even stand to look at a spider let alone stand on a snake and use a "grandpa tool". Im sure you are very proud :) Great writing april!! Cant wait to read the next entry :)